What if we come across aliens somewhere in the universe? Do we shake hands? Run? Set phasers to stun? We're not sure how the first encounter will go down, but the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Institute has a detailed plan for how to announce news of an extraterrestrial discovery.
The search for aliens is not new, and finding alien life isn't totally unthinkable. Mathematically, the likelihood that alien life exists is overwhelming (Fermi paradox, anyone?). A function of the IAA SETI Permanent Committee is to establish protocols to be followed by SETI (search for extraterrestrial life) scientists in the detection, analysis, verification, announcement, and response to signals from extraterrestrial intelligence. In 1989, the IAA adopted the Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was revised in 2010. It's mainly referred to as The First Protocol today.
Step 1: FREAK. OUT.
You can read The First Protocol on the SETI Institute site, but we broke down the nine-item list down into more easily digestible terms here:
1. If you think you've received a signal from aliens, double check. Like, quadruple check. The most plausible explanation for whatever you've discovered has got to be extraterrestrial intelligence. If it's not, go back to the drawing board.
2. So you think it's aliens, huh? Pump the brakes. Only tell your fellow researchers and observers so they can independently confirm what you think you've found.
3. Wow, congrats, it really is aliens! Tell more researchers and scientists, specifically through the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams of the International Astronomical Union. Surely you have them on speed dial. The IAA has a lengthy list of some other international institutions you should give the scoop to now.
4. Here we go. TELL. EVERYONE. Do it promptly. But why the heck would anyone want to wait?!
5. Time to show the receipts. Make sure all of your data is available to the international scientific community through publications, meetings, conferences, etc. FaceTime scientists on the other side of the globe to show them your happy tears.
6. Lock it down. Permanently record and store your evidence to the greatest extent possible. This is your legacy, for goodness sake: back it up!
7. If your evidence of alien detection is in the form of electromagnetic signals, you're going to need to talk to some people at the International Telecommunication Union to protect it.
8. Hold up: You're trying to send a message back to the aliens?! That's how intergalactic armageddon gets started! There's a whole different conversation that needs to happen before we dive into that.
9. Remember, the SETI Committee of the IAA will keep an eye on your discovery. So don't go tryin' anything funny on us, aliens.